Article Details

Research Database: Article Details

Citation:  Wehman, P.H., Schall, C.M., McDonough, J., Kregel, J., Brooke, V., Molinelli, A., Ham, W., Graham, C.W., Riehle, J.E., Collins, H.T., Thiss, W. (2014). Competitive employment for youth with autism spectrum disorders: Early results from a randomized clinical trial. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 44 (3), 487-500.
Title:  Competitive employment for youth with autism spectrum disorders: Early results from a randomized clinical trial
Authors:  Wehman, P.H., Schall, C.M., McDonough, J., Kregel, J., Brooke, V., Molinelli, A., Ham, W., Graham, C.W., Riehle, J.E., Collins, H.T., Thiss, W.
Year:  2014
Journal/Publication:  Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders
Publisher:  Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013
DOI:  https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-013-1892-x
Full text:  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23893098    |   PDF   
Peer-reviewed?  Yes
NIDILRR-funded?  Yes

Structured abstract:

Background:  School to work transition entails challenges for individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), particularly post-school employment outcomes. On the other end, servicer deliverers such as vocational rehabilitation programs, are experiencing difficulties responding to the needs of transition age youth with ASD. Many factors attributing to the challenges in attaining employment for individuals with ASD, such as co-morbid psychiatric disorders, poor social skills, as well as lack of independency.
Purpose:  The primary purpose of this paper is to examine the effectiveness of obtaining employment for students with ASD in a randomized clinical trial of Project SEARCH plus ASD Supports treatment compared to high school students’ individualized education program as delivered in their assigned high school during the final year of school.
Setting:  Project SEARCH plus ASD Supports program (hospital setting). Public high school special education program.
Study sample:  Forty four youth who were between the ages of 18 and 21 with a medical diagnosis or educational eligibility of Autism, Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified, or Aspergers Disorder were randomly assigned to one of two groups: (1) the treatment group—Project SEARCH plus ASD Supports, and (2) the control group—students attended their assigned high schools and received services as stipulated in their Individualized Education Plans (IEP’s).
Intervention:  Project SEARCH, as designed at Cincinnati Children’sHospital, is a 9-month internship model where youth with developmental disabilities in their last year of high school are embedded in a large community business. The study added additional components to the Project SEARCH model, including (1) onsite, intensive, systematic instruction using the principles of applied behavior analysis, (2) on-site support and consultation from a behavior/autism specialist, and (3) intensive staff training.
Control or comparison condition:  Students assigned to the control group continued to receive the educational supports and services as identified in their individualized education programs (IEP’s) without interaction from the Project SEARCH staff or research team beyond intervals of data collection on outcomes.
Data collection and analysis:  Baseline data including behavioral and medical characteristics were collected and analyzed through Support Intensity Scale scores, consisted of frequencies, means, standard deviations and distribution scores. Primary and secondary hypotheses analyses were conducted by Fisher's Exact test with the data of post intervention status and needs of support.
Findings:  The study yielded a number of highly favorable outcomes including (1) students with ASD who had never worked before in health care settings were given the opportunity and successfully completed three different 10-12 week internship rotations. (2) most of the students in the treatment condition demonstrated sufficient competency that resulted in employment in the host hospital. (3) Hospital staff spoke eloquently of the positive impact these students had in their department.
Conclusions:  This model provides very promising results in that the employment outcomes for youth in the treatment group were much higher in non-traditional jobs with higher than minimum wage incomes than for youth in the control condition. Specifically, 21 out of 24 (87.5 %) treatment group participants acquired employment while 1 of 16 (6.25 %) of control group participants acquired employment. This study provides compelling evidence that employment upon graduation from high school is achievable for youth with ASD who also display challenging behavior and have co-morbid medical diagnoses.

Disabilities served:  Autism / ASD
Populations served:  Transition-age youth (14 - 24)
Interventions:  Other
Outcomes:  Other